One of Singapore’s pioneer artists, Mr Liu Kang, was born 100 years ago. As a kid, I used to yawn and grumble “not another bunch of paintings of half-dressed Balinese women” whenever my Mum dragged me to yet another exhibition featuring famous Singapore artists. But the 100 works at the Liu Kang: A Centennial Celebration exhibition proved there was much more to Mr Liu Kang. Even his son, urban planner Dr Liu Thai Ker, discovered new delights through it.
The National Art Gallery, Singapore (TNAGS) team may not have their building ready yet but they are getting their hands-on experience organising major exhibitions such as this. We were invited to the opening also as a treat to us volunteer participants at a TNAGS focus group. It was heartening to see a multi-cultural crowd besides the typical supporters of the Nanyang art style. Mr Liu Kang was afterall a co-founder of the multi-cultural Singapore Art Society.
Thanks to the friendly presentation of the exhibition, I finally learnt the year of the much talked about Bali trip which art scholars regard as a significant contribution to the birth of the Nanyang art style.
My favourite was Young Wife by the Verandah, a portrait in pastels. Amidst the soft light rays and shadows, you can see the young and radiant Mrs Liu Kang. I believe she was his muse from her teens through the decades of their marriage.
You can see the famous Souri Balinese dancer in pastel drafts done before the actual oil painting. You can buy souvenirs with this image too.
There was no “dumbing down”, just equal opportunities to all to appreciate art. There were little docents earnestly guiding us by the art works!
The Liu Kang collection is certainly not just another bunch of paintings of half-dressed Balinese women. There are works from private collections too at the Liu Kang: A Centennial Celebration exhibition held at the Singapore Art Museum, one of the Singapore public museums with free admission in August 2011.
To learn more about Mr Liu Kang’s various roles in the Singapore arts, there is a new monograph and a compilation of his Chinese essays translated into English. Kids these days are lucky they too have a book on Mr Liu Kang’s art style. Ask your favourite major book store.